The B-Roll Breakdown: Unlocking the Secret Ingredient in Video Storytelling

Arianna Skincare Shoot - shooting b-roll

One of the most common questions that we receive when on set is, “What is B-Roll?”

A term widely used in video production is often lost on those who aren’t used to hearing it.

Understanding B-roll is crucial for anyone involved in the production process, as it plays a significant role in the narrative structure of a video.

The Origins of B-Roll

Because it’s now used in many styles and forms of video, you should have a firm understanding of what exactly it is.

The phrase comes from the beginnings of filmmaking, when footage was shot on 16mm film.

This secondary footage was crucial for cutting away from the main action and offering viewers additional context and information.

B-Roll: From Film to Digital

The “B” Roll was the second roll that was used to assist in making splices or dissolves.

You know those fades that you see in videos nowadays?

Back in the day, they were actually hand placed on top of the “A” Roll, using actual film.

This method allowed filmmakers to create a seamless flow between different scenes and enhance the storytelling.

The Evolution of B-Roll Over Time

As the years went on, the phrase still stayed but evolved with the times.

When the era of linear editing came around, there was an “A” and a “B” deck, with the “B” deck containing all of the extra footage.

The evolution of technology transformed how B-Roll was used, making it easier to integrate and more critical to the editing process.

Defining Modern B-Roll

The extra footage serves as a kind of support, meaning anything that adds to or helps to enhance the main footage.

This includes location shots/images pertaining to the main subject of the video.

Modern B-roll is often used to provide visual relief and maintain the viewer’s engagement by offering a varied visual landscape.

B-Roll in Practice

For example, if there is a subject talking about walking down a street, one may choose to cut to footage of them actually walking down a street. That street footage would be called… (you guessed it) B-Roll.

This helps the viewer to not only imagine but also to actually see what is being discussed, like putting a face to a name.

It serves as a practical tool to visually demonstrate narrative elements without disrupting the flow of the main content.

The Purpose of B-Roll

Therefore, B-Roll is all about visually enhancing your video. It can also help to hide a cut or provide a break from the main video.

Using B-Roll gives the video a more dynamic look and helps to keep viewers engaged.

It’s an essential element for adding depth to your story and smoothing over any edits that might otherwise jar the viewer.

Strategic Use of B-Roll

When you’re deciding if you want to shoot to edit or shoot for coverage, that’s when you should also decide if you’ll want B-roll and just how much you’ll want.  

Some videos don’t use any B-Roll, but if you decide to use it, it’s important to at least have a general idea of what kind of footage you want to capture.

Planning your B-roll effectively can significantly impact the final product, making your content richer and more engaging.

B-Roll Planning: The Case of Ariana Skincare

Here’s another example. For Ariana Skincare, we knew that B-Roll would be needed to help break up the interview and add another visual level to it.

So before the shoot, we plotted out all of the B-roll footage.  This included shots of our subject working out, relaxing in her home, and walking around the park.

As already discussed, this footage will only serve to enhance the video and allow viewers to see our subject in a setting beyond a simple, formal interview.

Effective B-roll planning supported the storytelling by providing a more holistic view of the subject’s lifestyle.

B-Roll: Enhancing the Viewing Experience

Now, the next time you’re on set, you can confidently answer the person who will inevitably ask the question, “What is B-Roll?”

Understanding and utilizing B-roll not only improves the aesthetics of your video but also deepens the audience’s connection to the content.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the different types of B-roll footage, and how are they used?

B-roll comes in various flavors, each serving a specific purpose.

Establishing shots set the scene and provide context for the viewer. Cutaways break up interviews or dialogue-heavy scenes, offering visual relief and keeping the audience engaged. Insert shots showcase specific details or objects mentioned in the main footage.

Additionally, B-roll can include relevant stock footage or even animated elements, depending on the video’s style and purpose.

How does B-roll enhance the storytelling aspect of a video?

B-roll acts as a visual storyteller, adding depth and context to the main narrative.

It can illustrate concepts, evoke emotions, and create a more immersive experience for the viewer. By weaving B-roll footage into your video, you can show rather than tell, making your story more compelling and memorable.

For example, in a documentary about a historical event, B-roll footage of the location, artifacts, or re-enactments can transport viewers back in time and make the story more tangible.

When should I start planning for B-roll footage in my video production process?

The earlier, the better!

Ideally, B-roll planning should begin during the pre-production phase. This involves brainstorming ideas for relevant footage, scouting locations, and creating a shot list.

By planning ahead, you can ensure that you capture all the necessary B-roll to support your story and avoid scrambling for footage at the last minute.

Can I use stock footage as B-roll, or should I always shoot my own?

The decision to use stock footage or shoot your own B-roll depends on various factors, including budget, timeline, and the specific needs of your project.

Stock footage can be a convenient and cost-effective option, especially for generic scenes or establishing shots. However, for a more personalized and unique feel, shooting your own B-roll is recommended.

It allows you to capture footage that perfectly aligns with your brand’s aesthetic and message.

How can I ensure that my B-roll seamlessly integrates with the main footage?

To create a cohesive visual narrative, it’s crucial to pay attention to the continuity of your B-roll.

Ensure that the lighting, color palette, and overall style of your B-roll match the main footage. Additionally, use editing techniques like J and L cuts to create smooth transitions between the two types of footage.

By carefully blending B-roll into your video, you can enhance the storytelling without distracting the viewer from the main message.